Knowledge for Development

'Traditional Knowledge & Biopiracy: The Peruvian Maca Root' - PIIPA Monthly Case Study Series (Feb.2011)

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Date: 23/02/2011

Introduction:

Maca root is an herbaceous, perennial, cultivated crop that is native to the Andes in Peru. Maca plants have medicinal values that include increasing libido, stamina, fertility, and alleviating insomnia. For centuries, the people in the Andes have been using the maca root for its medicinal properties and now maca is exported around the world. The Peruvian people’s use of maca for medicinal purposes is an example of traditional knowledge (TK).

The National Institute for the Defense of Competition and Intellectual Property (INDECOPI) is a Peruvian government agency charged with the responsibility for market promotion and protection of consumer rights, as well as ensuring honest competition while protecting all forms of intellectual property Including TK. Concern about possible biopiracy of the maca root is one reason why Peru created this task force.

INDECOPI discovered that there were over 100 patents directed to inventions related to Peruvian indigenous plants, the maca root or that included maca derivatives in the patent claims. With the help of PIIPA’s pro bono assistance volunteer (the US firm of Sterne Kessler Goldstein and Fox, PLLC in Washington DC “SKGF”) focus was placed on U.S. patents directed to extracts of maca plants.

The Working Group and SKGF worked with scientists and maca exporters to assemble published documentation on maca preparation and the use of maca prior to the filing dates of most of the patents in question. In 2002, the working group also filed an opposition to an EU patent application with the European Patent Office (EPO).

In 2010, the EPO rejected the European patent application, in part due to the documents provided by INDECOPI and the Working Group, which showed prior use. Currently, the National Anti-Biopiracy Commission will submit a request for reexamination of the related patent granted in the U.S. based on the rejection of the European patent as an argument.

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